Craig Berube

NHL Awards: PHT hands out hardware at the All-Star Break

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It’s the NHL All-Star break, which means it’s a good time to reflect on what’s happened during the first four months of the 2019-20 season. There’s been plenty of surprises and disappointments so far, and it’s never too early to begin discussing who could be up for the the major awards in June.

The PHT staff was polled for their top three choices for the Hart, Norris, Vezina, Jack Adams, and Calder. Below are our selections and our reasons behind our No. 1 selections.

Let us know your winners in the comments.

SEAN: The problem for the super duos in Boston and Edmonton is there are arguments to be made for McDavid and Draisaitl and Marchand and Pastrnak for MVP. All are worthy, but right now the top spot has to go to MacKinnon for what he’s done this season with the Avs. His 70 points puts him top three in NHL scoring and he kept on scoring as Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog missed time with injuries. How important has been for Colorado? The second leading scorer on the team — Cale Makar — is 35! points behind him.

JAMES: Woof, this is a tough one. MacKinnon gets the edge for two reasons: First, his defensive impact is stronger than guys like McDavid (in a granular way) and secondly, MacKinnon generated big offense and huge shot totals even with key linemates out. He didn’t have the luxury of Mikko Rantanen as often as McDavid had Leon Draisaitl or Pastrnak had Brad Marchand (who’s just as worthy of consideration as Pastrnak).

ADAM: The Oilers’ roster still isn’t very good outside of the top-two or-three players, and McDavid is single-handedly putting that team on his back and carrying it. He is simply the most dominant player in hockey. He should be going for his third or fourth MVP at this point in his career.

JOEY: This may be the obvious pick, but the Oilers are so thin behind McDavid and Leon Draisaitl that it’s hard not to consider their captain the frontrunner to be MVP. McDavid is currently on pace to pick up 127 points, which is one point fewer than last year’s Hart Trophy winner, Nikita Kucherov, finished the season with in 2018-19.

SCOTT: Whether he wins the award or not, McDavid is by far the most valuable player in the National Hockey League

SEAN: A leg injury will likely derail Hamilton’s chances in June, but for now he’s been top for the class this season. He’s got the points (40), the possession stats (58% Corsi, via Natural Stat Trick), and is top five in goals above replacement (13.4) and wins above replacement (2.3), via Evolving Hockey.

JAMES: If Carlson’s scoring lead shrinks, I’d lean toward someone like Pietrangelo, who scores and also shines more in underlying metrics. Carlson’s still mostly … fine, though, really, and his offense has been impossible to ignore. Not just 13 goals and 60 points, but also six game-winners. Sorry, I can only ignore so many shiny points. Hamilton would be in the top three if not for his unfortunate injury — I assume we’ll sadly have to forget about him here.

ADAM: I say this knowing Hamilton is almost certainly not going to win at the end of the season because of his injury (and because Carlson’s point total will get most of the votes) but we are talking strictly first half performance here, and I think Hamilton was the best all-around defenseman in the first half before his injury given his dominance at both ends of the rink and his ability to control the pace of the game. He has always been underappreciated and a legit No. 1 defender, and this is his best performance to date.

JOEY: How can you argue with the Carlson pick? The 30-year-old is top 10 in league scoring, which is shocking at this point, and he’s on pace to surpass the 100-point mark. His overall game isn’t terrible either. What a year.

SCOTT: The offensive part of his game this season has been outstanding but Carlson’s play on both ends of the ice is a huge reason why the Capitals are atop the NHL standings.

SEAN: Hellebuyck is as important player to his team as anyone this season. As the Jets continue to struggle, the netminder has stood out keeping them above water and in the playoff race. He sports a .926 even strength save percentage, is top five in goals saved above average (10.75, per Natural Stat Trick), and leads all goalies in goals above replacement (16.3), wins above replacement (2.8), and standings points above replacement (5.5), as tracked by Evolving Wild.

JAMES: Hellebuyck deserves legitimate MVP consideration. The Jets would be lost without them, as they’re getting swamped and basically asking Hellebuyck to save the day. He’s doing so to a staggering extent. Bishop’s been incredible for Dallas, though, and is even impressive in certain stat categories. Sheer workload wins it for Hellebuyck.

ADAM: Bishop does not get enough attention for being one of the league’s best goalies. He has already been a Vezina finalist three different times in his career and should be there again this season. The Stars have a good team, but no one person is driving their success more than him.

JOEY: Hellebuyck might not have the best numbers of the three candidates on this list, but he’s done a relatively good job playing behind a less-than-stellar defense. The Jets lost Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba in the off-season, so being the goaltender on that team was never going to be easy.

SCOTT: Binnington busted on the scene last season but has proven that it was not a fluke with excellent play between the pipes.

Tortorella
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SEAN: The Blue Jackets are in a playoff spot, just as we all predicted back in July… Despite all of the departures in free agency Tortorella has gotten the best out of his charges, with a special thanks to the recent play of goaltender Elvis Merzlikins. As Cam Atkinson said before the season, Columbus came in with chips on their shoulders and have proved doubters wrong through the first half.

JAMES: Let’s be honest; “keeping your job” is the real Jack Adams Award for coaches in 2019-20. There are some great choices — including Barry Trotz, who didn’t make the top three — but Sullivan’s Penguins haven’t just rolled with huge injury punches. They’ve also managed to be a top team, not just a team clinging to wild-card contention. Sullivan’s versatility as a coach has really impressed me since he joined the Penguins.

ADAM: Sullivan. The Penguins not only lead the league in man-games lost due to injury, but the quality of players that have been sidelined is far and away above what any other team has had to deal with. They are still one of the league’s best defensive teams, one of the league’s best teams overall, and are playing like they did during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons when they won the Stanley Cup.

JOEY: Tortorella has had to make serious adjustments heading into this season. Losing Panarin and Bobrovsky is something most coaches wouldn’t be able to overcome. Whether they make the playoffs or not, Tortorella needs to be in the conversation for the Jack Adams.

SCOTT: With all the injuries that have ravaged the Penguins, they are still in prime position in the Eastern Conference and Sullivan has done a great job of integrating call-ups up and down the lineup.

SEAN: Makar and Hughes will be the top two finalists and so far it’s an incredibly close race. They’re tight in points (Makar leads with a 0.88 points per game average) and close in minutes played (Hughes is ahead by over a minute per night), but Makar gets the slight edge here with his impact offensively for the Avs. The only question come awards season is if Ilya Samsonov came play his way in being the third finalist.

JAMES: Hughes vs. Makar remains a tough choice, and picking third is tough, with Adam Fox and forwards like Victor Olofsson (injured) and Dominik Kubalik knocking on the door. The three defensemen above are bringing offense, but are also carrying significant workloads — and not just “for rookies.” Hughes strikes me as the most impressive from an all-around standpoint, while Makar’s offensive brilliance cannot be ignored. It’s a strong, strong year for rookie defensemen, and Marino’s a hidden gem. All three defensemen are averaging more than 20 minutes per night on playoff teams.

ADAM: Makar looks like he is going to be a superstar. While the forward trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog is the foundation of the Avalanche roster, a player like Makar is what really takes them to another level as Stanley Cup contenders. An impact defenseman that can move the puck, play those minutes, and help drive the offense the way he does is a cornerstone player and the type of defenseman that has Norris Trophies in his future.

JOEY: Makar has averaged over 20 minutes of ice time in his first full year in the NHL and he’s managed to pick up 11 goals and 35 points in 40 games this season. The 21-year-old looks like he’s going to be a huge factor in Colorado for many years to come. He’s definitely the rookie of the year if he stays healthy.

SCOTT: The transition to the NHL shouldn’t be this easy but Makar has been a force on the Avalanche blueline.

Rick Tocchet replaces Gerard Gallant as Pacific All-Star coach

Gerard Gallant’s surprising dismissal as head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday also created another opening at the 2020 NHL All-Star Game.

Gallant had been named as the head coach of the Pacific Division team earlier this month because the Golden Knights had the best record in the division at the start of the new calendar year. But with him now no longer being the coach in Vegas, the NHL had to find a replacement.

The League announced on Thursday that Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet will be that replacement.

The Coyotes are currently in first place in the Division with 57 points entering play on Thursday.

[Related: Golden Knights’ firing of Galant short-sighted, knee-jerk reaction]

For Tocchet, this will be his first time coaching in the All-Star Game. He has been the Coyotes’ coach since the start of the 2017-18 season. It is worth noting that in the chaos of the league’s coaching carousel this season (that has now seen seven coaching changes) he is tied with Vancouver’s Travis Green as the longest-tenured coach in the Pacific Division. Both are in their third years with their respective teams.

Washington’s Todd Reirden (Metropolitan Division), Boston’s Bruce Cassidy (Atlantic Division), and St. Louis’ Craig Berube (Central Division) are the other three coaches at this year’s game.

The NHL’s All-Star weekend takes place later this month on January 24-25 in St. Louis.

MORE NHL ALL-STAR GAME COVERAGE:
All-Star Game rosters
NHL All-Star Game captains
All-Star Game coaches
Pass or Fail: 2020 All-Star Game jerseys
Alex Ovechkin will not play in 2020 All-Star Game
NHL Skills Competition to feature women’s 3-on-3, pucks shot from stands
Rosters for Women’s elite 3-on-3 tournament 

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Can Hynes succeed with Predators where Laviolette failed?

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The Nashville Predators actually did it. They fired Peter Laviolette, and then hired John Hynes in a dizzying span.

The dream is that Hynes can sculpt this lump of underachieving clay back into contending shape. How well do such imaginings line up with reality, though? Let’s consider the way things might or might not change for the Predators.

Good Cop/Bad Cop?

In sports, teams sometimes opt to rotate approaches. First, you hire a “yeller” to scream out the procrastinators. Then you soothe various wounds with a “player-friendly” coach … or vice versa.

The Predators might be aiming for such a dynamic.

While plenty (including Babcock-blasting Mike Commodore) showed fondness for Laviolette over the years, the word “intense” comes up over and over in describing the coach. The Tennessean’s Joe Rexrode summed up some of that intensity in a May 2017 column:

This is a man whose default setting is “cold glare” when he enters a room. A seemingly humorless man, a professional sourpuss, a coach who can detect bad intentions in the most harmless of questions.

When Hynes was fired, it was striking to see just how many people went out of their ways to support him. The praise ranged from players including Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier to former front office members.

Affixing Hynes with a white hat and Laviolette with a twirly villain’s mustache would, again, be a bit extreme. Laviolette showed a sense of humor in being the butt of a joke, after all, while some wonder if Hynes favored veterans over younger players in New Jersey.

Still, in a broad, “macro” sense, you could argue that the Predators shifted from a stern to a gentler touch.

Hynes upgrading offense after it wilted under Laviolette?

After hiring Laviolette, Predators GM David Poile (understandably) hyped Laviolette’s “aggressive offensive philosophy.”

Laviolette justified such claims — for a time. After all, a franchise that once spent first-round picks to land Paul Gaustad was now emphasizing offensive acquisitions from Filip Forsberg to Ryan Johansen to Matt Duchene.

Whatever happened along the way — maybe the message faded, perhaps the league passed Laviolette by — the Predators’ offense plummeted. This thread from Micah Blake McCurdy argues that Hynes may improve Nashville’s system, even just by default.

Hynes provides a clean slate for those who fell in Laviolette’s doghouse

Following Sunday’s uglier-than-it-seemed shootout loss to the Ducks (which may have been the final straw for Lavy, depending upon whom you ask), Preds winger Craig Smith implied that Nashville’s system became bogged down by details.

“Sometimes maybe we overthink our system and play a little (lax) and sit back on our heels,” Smith said, via The Tennessean’s Paul Skrbina. “In the third (period Sunday) I think we just said eff it; let’s get after it a little bit. Read and react. Just play hockey, making hockey plays. That’s what we did.”

Could Hynes help them just play hockey? Maybe, maybe not.

In a fascinating discussion of Hynes’ Devils days, CJ Turtoro told On the Forecheck that Hynes’ system could also get too complicated.

Turtoro: One weakness for this particular team seemed to be complexity. As I mentioned, his system aims to create space, but that can create chaos that makes it difficult for players to support one another if they’re not on the same page, or not where they’re supposed to be …

The dream would be for Hynes to boost the Predators’ offense without taking away too much defense. Basically, the fantasy would parallel Craig Berube finding the right mix for the Blues after Mike Yeo leaned too defense-heavy. File that under easier said than done, of course.

Either way, the Predators may simply get a boost from Kyle Turris and others getting a clean slate.

Personally, I get the impression that Turris has paid for past sins. He struggled last season, injuries or not, but there’s compelling evidence that he shouldn’t have been a healthy scratch. Certainly not a frequent one.

Don’t underestimate the power of getting out of the doghouse.

Plenty of work to do

It’s kind of cruel that Hynes is going from one of the worst goalie duos to one of the league’s other terrible tandems.

If nothing else, it’s far more surprising to see Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros struggle that it was to see the Devils’ motley crue produce dismal results. So maybe Hynes can help them achieve more, particularly behind a far, far superior defense than the one he deployed in New Jersey?

Hynes and the Predators don’t have much of a margin for error, so this should be interesting to watch.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Binnington, Blues show how far you can come in one year

Binnington Blues Stanley Cup
Getty Images

The year 2020 remains brand-spanking new, even if world events made the first week feel much longer. With the year’s new-car smell still wafting in the air, it’s an opportunity to reflect on how much can change in 12 months. St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington can attest to how someone’s life can pull a 180 in 365 days (or, in 2020, 366).

While Binnington made his first NHL start on Jan. 7, 2019, Binnington told The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford (sub required) that it also felt, to him, like one of his last opportunities to prove himself.

It sounds like Binnington arrived with the sort of motivation that would inspire you to punch large slabs of meat and run laps on the beach.

(Aside: Binnington probably means “Eye of the Tiger,” yet that unintentionally open-ended comment actually points to the glut of outstanding inspirational, montage-worthy tunes in “Rocky” movies. There’s the just-as-rad theme, cheesier option “Hearts on Fire,” and even the remote possibility that Binnington was merely listening to Rocky mutter various lines. Lots of possibilities, honestly.)

Binnington starts hot, rarely slows down for Blues

Binnington began his underdog story with quite the haymaker. He pitched a 25-save shutout in that first NHL start after only seeing paltry relief appearances before.

Rather than being a fluke victory, that debut shutout portended big things for Binnington and the Blues. The team caught fire, and while Binnington wasn’t the only key, he saved their season.

Binnington managed an astounding 24 wins in just 30 games played, generating a fantastic .927 save percentage during a rookie season that helped him finish second in the Calder voting. Binnington could’ve hung his hat on that great regular season, alone.

Yet, well … you probably know what happened.

While Binnington struggled at times during the postseason (.914 save percentage during that 26-game run), he frequently earned praise for being “unflappable.” You’d expect “steady as a rock” from a veteran, not a goalie who wondered where his career was heading as 2019 began.

Binnington delivered in the clutch, in particular, cementing that thought with a stellar championship-winning performance in Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

Binnington, Blues putting out a strong sequel so far

Marking Jan. 2, 2019 as a line in the sand makes a lot of sense for Blues historians — and maybe other teams firing their coaches mid-season. After all, that’s when the Blues ranked last in the NHL, only to turn around their 2018-19 season and win the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup.

That Binnington start on Jan. 7, 2019 works well, too, though.

Either way, it’s truly remarkable to see how much Binnington’s life changed, and how he skyrocketed up the ranks of top goalies. Consider a few facts:

  • Binnington’s 43 wins (43-12-5 record) leads all goalies since he made that first start. His .923 save percentage would hover around the top 10 during that time, too, if you exclude goalies who barely played.
  • Fascinatingly, a resurgent Jake Allen now ties Binnington’s .923 during that time (Allen in 28 games, Binnington in 60). The two can conceivably push each other to help boost the Blues overall.
  • The Blues topped all NHL teams for the calendar year of 2019 with 56 wins and 123 standings points. (Again, Binnington won 43 of those 56.)
  • Binnington went from a goalie bouncing around various levels of hockey to a player who received a two-year, $8.8 million contract. And you could make a sound argument the Blues got a bit of a bargain.
  • Yes, Binnington tapered off a bit compared to last season’s lofty hot streak. He still seems like a viable starter, however, with a solid .914 save percentage, and 7.26 Goals Saved Against Average that is more than respectable.
  • Binnington played a large role in the resurgence of “Gloria.”

Binnington really stacked his resume so far, huh? Now the key is to avoid making sequels on the level of “Rocky V.”

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Berube, Cassidy, Gallant, Reirden will coach at 2020 NHL All-Star Game

We know the rosters and the players who are up for the “Last Men In” vote, and now we know who the four coaches will be at the 2020 NHL All-Star Game later this month in St. Louis.

Bruce Cassidy of the Bruins will represent the Atlantic Division; Todd Reirden of the Capitals will man the bench for the Metropolitan Division; Craig Berube will run the show for the Central Division; and Gerard Gallant of the Vegas Golden Knights will serve as head coach for the Pacific Division.

This is the second straight All-Star Game for Reirden, while Gallant will be attending his third as head coach.

The four coaches were named to the All-Star teams because their teams have the highest points percentage as of Jan. 2, the halfway point of the 2019-20 regular season.

Bruins (.702, 24-7-11)
Capitals (.720, 27‑9‑5)
Blues (.690, 26-10-6)
Golden Knights (.591, 23-15-6)

The 2020 All-Star Game will once again be a three-on-three tournament that will see each division face each other in a series of 20-minute games (Atlantic vs. Metropolitan; Central vs. Pacific; and the two winners in a championship game).

The 2020 NHL All-Star Skills Competition will take place on Friday, Jan. 24 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2020 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 25 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

MORE NHL ALL-STAR GAME COVERAGE:
All-Star Game rosters
Players up for “Last Men In” vote
NHL All-Star Game captains
Alex Ovechkin will not play in 2020 All-Star Game

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.